Many consider the Senior Bowl to be the unofficial kickoff to the NFL offseason. To that end, the Bolts brain trust is currently down in Mobile, AL, evaluating some of the top prospects in the game.
So what exactly goes on at the Senior Bowl? We asked Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Spanos to take us through the intricacies of the event.Photo Gallery: Chargers at Past Senior Bowls | More Photos
“Basically every team is represented here with all the scouts and most of the coaches,” he said. “It’s a great time for us to evaluate these all-star players. The Senior Bowl committee has assembled these all-star rosters that are the best of the best of the seniors in college football. They have a full week of practices in pads that scouts and coaches get to attend and we get to evaluate those practices which are coached by NFL staffs. You have over four hours of practice time that is split up between the two teams in a morning practice and an afternoon practice. Then we get to meet together as an organization. All of our scouts are here and a lot of our coaches are here. So there is a lot that goes on this week and it’s usually very productive.”
Besides watching them in action, this marks one of the first times the Bolts brass will get a chance to speak with some of these prospects in person. According to Spanos, this year marks a new format in which the teams get to interview the prospects.
“There is time set aside for both formal and informal interviews with all the players that are here,” he said. “They have done a great job for the first time setting up a new format for the formal interview, and it gives each team really a great chance to have access to the players. It’s much more organized than it’s ever been which is good for the scouts and good for the teams. It’s really a well-run week and a well-run all-star bowl game, which is why they get the best of the best in terms of the players.”
Two of the greatest Chargers in team history put on a performance for the ages at the Senior Bowl. It’s not a coincidence that just months later, both were drafted by the Bolts. Those two players being LaDainian Tomlinson and
Tomlinson was the Senior Bowl MVP in 2001, running for 88 yards and a touchdown to help the South defeat the North 21-16. That year, the Chargers traded back to the number five slot to draft the future Hall of Famer.
Three years later, with the Chargers staff comprising the South coaching staff, it was Rivers’ turn to win Senior Bowl MVP honors. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Just like with Tomlinson, the Bolts conducted a draft day trade in order to bring Rivers to San Diego. That year’s Senior Bowl holds an extra special place in Spanos’ memory.
“I remember it very well,” he said. “That was a big year for us because we ended up drafting a lot of players that year that were in the Senior Bowl, including of course Philip Rivers being the marquee guy. Our coaching staff was coaching one of the teams that year, and it happened to be the team Philip was on. All week everyone was very impressed by everything he did not only on the field but off the field (and) in the meeting room. We saw his leadership, his intangibles, how quick he was in picking things up and how smart he was. Then he goes out in the game and of course is one of the most productive players and was named MVP of the game itself. So there really was a lot that jumped out about Philip that week and it was another piece of the puzzle that led us to feeling great about us acquiring him in the first round of the draft that year.”
Rivers wasn’t the only current Charger who turned heads back in 2004. His longtime center
“I remember that year Nick Hardwick competed in the Senior Bowl,” Spanos said. “He is another guy who we ended up drafting and of course here we are 10 years later and he is still playing at a very high level for us helping us get to the playoffs. So I remember that year very well. It was a great year in terms of drafting guys that were down here.”
Spanos also recalls what it was like a year ago at this time, when General Manger Tom Telesco and Head Coach Mike McCoy showed up in Alabama less than a month into their tenure. Spanos said he was impressed by the way they handled themselves, and now one year later, the Chargers have an even better sense of what they are looking for in regards to their system.
“Working with Mike and Tom even in the first month was a very smooth process,” he explained. “We could tell a lot about those guys during the interview process that they were going to be great fits. But now one year later, from a system point of view, it’s been in place much longer now. So we’re entering it and everyone has been on the same page since the summer time as opposed to having a new GM and a new Head Coach who had been here only a month. So we’re a whole year ahead of the game having worked together for a year. Our system is in place, so it’s been running very smoothly.”
Still, the work of the Chargers front office is never done. Spanos and company will return to San Diego early next week, evaluate what they learned from the Senior Bowl and move forward with the rest of what will be a busy offseason.
“When we come back to San Diego we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Spanos said. “The Scouting Combine is next month and we’ll have a lot of personnel type meetings before the combine. And we’ll be getting ready for free agency. The new league year starts in March and that is when free agency begins. So we have a lot of work to do before now and then. They have been ongoing processes and we have done a lot of work on them already, but now we are in the final period of time before they begin so we are continuing to do more.”